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6 Best Charcoal BBQs & Smokers (2021 Review)

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The best charcoal BBQ will have a nice big cooking area, a built in thermometer, and well-positioned vents to encourage air-flow. It should be easy to assemble and easy to clean. Additional features such as side trays, wheels for portability and a built in smoker are also desirable. As someone who loves cooking outside, I’ve heavily researched and tested what I believe to be the best options. Here’s what I recommend…

What is the Best Charcoal BBQ For You?

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Comparing The Best Charcoal BBQs

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  • Best For
  • Grill Size
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Wheeled?
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In-Depth Reviews of Our Recommended Charcoal BBQs

CosmoGrill Outdoor XL Charcoal Smoker BBQCosmoGrill Outdoor XL Charcoal Smoker BBQ

Best charcoal BBQ with smoker

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
4.18
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CosmoGrill Outdoor XL Charcoal Smoker BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 58cm x 42.5cm
  • Height: 124cm
  • Weight: 24kg
  • Wheeled?: Yes

Finding a good balance between quality, size and price can be difficult when it comes to BBQs, especially if you’re looking for something capable of catering to larger groups.

The CosmoGrill Outdoor XL Smoker Charcoal Portable BBQ is a sizeable grill range with plenty of cooking space, that remains within a reasonable price bracket.

The large rectangular cooking area has enough space to cook 10 burger patties alongside 10 sausages simultaneously, with room left over to smoke or grill other items too. Plus, to help curb nerves about cooking this much in one go, the built-in thermometer gives accurate readings to help take the guesswork out of grilling.

Whether you’re a bit of a BBQ connoisseur, or hoping to learn a few new tips and tricks, this CosmoGrill BBQ has a variety of adjustable settings available, making it possible to stay in control of cooking temperature in several ways. The coal tray is height adjustable, so its position in relation to the food can be altered, and the vents can also be used to change the air flow around the BBQ.

It’s possible to smoke, grill and slow-cook food using this unit, and it can reach temperatures of up to 200°C. The side tables and under-grill storage all come in handy whilst cooking, making it much easier to store and quickly access utensils and seasonings. Plus, the area can also be used for plating up, made even more convenient by the BBQ’s warming rack – food can be kept warm until it’s needed, without going cold.

One drawback is the assembly required to put this unit together – but this does only need to be done once!

It can take upwards of an hour, depending on how DIY savvy you are, and there are a lot of pieces to fit together. On the plus side, the instructions are relatively clear and methodical so as long as they are followed closely it does end up piecing together.

Pros

  • Being able to adjust the height of the coal tray, using the turning handle, makes it a lot easier to control heat compared to other BBQs.
  • Can reach temperatures of around 180 - 200°C with the lid closed.
  • Coal can be added around the grill, without having to remove grills or food.
  • Will comfortably cater for 8 - 10 people +
  • Cleaning is straight forward and some of the grill racks can fit in the dishwasher.

Cons

  • There's no drain for grease so you may need to find another way to remove it.
  • Assembly may take around 1 - 2 hours (but instructions are easy to follow).
  • The upper rack is permanently fixed and hard to remove for cleaning - using foil can help.
  • The lid may not seal perfectly which can lead to some smoke escaping.
  • No handle which would facilitate with pulling BBQ along on wheels.
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Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal BBQKamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal BBQ

Best professional BBQ & smoker

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
4.3
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Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 45cm x 45cm
  • Height: 122cm
  • Weight: 85.28kg
  • Wheeled?: Yes

If you’ve had enough of classic plain BBQs and are looking to add some excitement to your outdoor steak-nights, the Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal Grill certainly delivers a touch of panache to proceedings.

It’s not only the colour that helps it stand out as something special; both its shape and smoking-lid design are uniquely characteristic of the Kamado Joe grill. These units are sturdy and well made, consistently manufactured to a noticeably high standard.

With an 18” cooking area, there’s plenty of grilling room to keep the food coming, even at family gatherings and parties. Plus, the 2-tier ‘Divide and Conquer’ cooking system not only has a fantastic name, but allows you to cook a range of foods at different temperatures, all at the same time. Catering to different tastes and keeping all the guests happy finally becomes that little bit easier…

Even airflow management can be controlled to a tee, allowing those who are passionate about BBQing to customise the cooking settings as they wish. It also looks pretty spectacular, making quite the statement as charcoal smoke spools from the chimney.

An external thermometer makes it easy to check the temperature without lifting the lid, and two side tables allow for easy preparation and plating up – always useful as space does tend to be at a premium during BBQs.

It’s possible to cook a range of different foods on this grill, from eggs to pizza, as well as the standard meat options. As a result, there may be a slight learning curve as you first start to use it, but there is plenty of information online to help with the process.

Pros

  • Allows for smoking at low temperatures over long periods, good for cooking tender meat eg. pulled pork.
  • The ash pan is easy to remove and helps make cleaning faster.
  • Extremely flexible in terms of cooking styles: roast, slow cook, pizza oven, and even rotisserie chicken with extra attachment.
  • Easy to assemble in under 15 minutes.
  • Retains heat well. One bowl of coal, on low heat, can last for 12 hours +

Cons

  • May take a bit of getting used to, to work out best temperatures and settings.
  • There's no place to hang utensils from.
  • Very heavy and difficult for one person to move - but wheels help once base is attached.
  • When both heat deflector plates are in use, there's no way to add additional smoking wood chunks if you want to.
  • The included instructions are lacking, although there is a good amount of information online.
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Weber Compact Black Charcoal BBQWeber Compact Black Charcoal BBQ

Best value charcoal BBQ

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
4.16
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Weber Compact Black Charcoal BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 57cm x 57cm
  • Height: 87.9cm
  • Weight: 7kg
  • Wheeled?: Yes

For all those BBQ lovers out there, who enjoy being able to grill at home but are conscious of limited storage space, the Weber Compact Charcoal BBQ is an efficient cooking tool with a very manageable 47 cm cooking plate diameter.

It fits neatly in the corner of the shed, weighing just 7 kg so it’s easy to manoeuvre in and out. The thick, crack-resistant wheels facilitate movement around the patio, with a robust handle that is well positioned and easy to grab onto. In fact, this BBQ is can even be transported in the car (car size depending, of course), if you want to take it to a friend’s house, the beach, or camping.

If you plan on keeping things closer to home, this BBQ can still be used to provide food for family gatherings, despite its smaller size, and will cope easily with food for 4 – 6 people (although some staggered cooking may be required).

Sure, it may not have all of the advanced cooking features of some other BBQs, such as adjustable rack heights or several cooking platforms, but this basic grill will still suffice to scratch that BBQ itch. Plus, the air vents in the lid do allow some control over cooking temperature which will please any hands-on chefs.

In terms of construction, it’s well made, as expected from a Weber product, constructed from a durable mixture of steel, chromed steel and enamelled steel. There is a rust-proof vent at the bottom of the bowl for emptying ash, and you shouldn’t need to worry about the BBQ suffering from exposure. That said, storing it away when not in use will help extend its life further.

With a small amount of assembly required, although much less than with larger BBQs, it takes around 30 minutes to put this unit together. Once up and running, the dimensions are a very reasonable 83 x 52 x 56 cm.

It’s worth considering buying a few extras alongside this BBQ, to make for a more comfortable grilling process. For example, there’s no thermometer included, which can help with grilling accuracy, and heatproof gloves would help with adjusting the air vents during use.

Pros

  • Easy to assemble in under 30 minutes.
  • Big enough to cook around 16 sausages at a time.
  • Compact size makes it suitable for balconies as well as small gardens.
  • Simple to start, without the need for fire lighters, by following the provided instructions.

Cons

  • Doesn't come with a built-in thermometer so have to lift lid to check food.
  • Getting all the ash to empty into the tray may be difficult, requires shaking the whole BBQ.
  • Slightly more difficult to control the heat with just vents; no ability to raise/lower grill.
  • Heatproof gloves may be required to adjust the vents as they can get hot.
  • The lid is not hinged - it comes off and hangs on a small hook.
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Tepro Grillwagen Toronto Charcoal BBQTepro Grillwagen Toronto Charcoal BBQ

Best budget charcoal BBQ

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
4.36
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Tepro Grillwagen Toronto Charcoal BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 56cm x 41.5cm
  • Height: 115cm
  • Weight: 25.4kg
  • Wheeled?: Yes

If you’re after a great-looking BBQ that cooks reliably without overcomplicating matters, the Toronto Trolley Grill Barbecue has that traditional ‘American grill’ look, with several ways to regulate temperature, without too many extra bells and whistles. An added benefit of this, of course, is that it also comes with quite a reasonable price tag.

As a well-sized BBQ, with a warming rack and folding side table included, it becomes much easier to organise the lunch or dinner. Several items can be cooked at once, easily kept warm until everything’s ready to be served, and seasonings, condiments and plates can all be kept close to hand. Plus, there’s even a bottle opener attached to the front, seamlessly allowing the chef to enjoy a relaxed bottle of beer whilst keeping an eye on the burgers.

With a grill surface of 56 x 41.6 cm, there’s plenty of room to cook for around 6 people, with the ability to control the grill temperatures depending on what’s on the menu for your guests. There is a crank system which adjusts the distance between the coals and the food, and vents in the lid, designed to raise or lower cooking temperature. You can ensure that more delicate foods don’t get scorched to charcoal yet still be sure to cook food thoroughly.

The built-in thermometer further facilitates accurate cooking; given that the hinged lid can be either open or closed when cooking, when it’s shut it can be tempting to open it and check on the food. Thanks to the thermometer, you can avoid opening the lid and letting heat out unnecessarily.

It’s easy to wheel around, and relatively lightweight at 25.4 kg (certainly perfectly manageable for manoeuvring around the garden.

One thing to take into consideration is the assembly time – if you’re planning to buy this BBQ for a specific event, allow yourself 2 – 3 hours to get it assembled correctly as it can prove a little difficult to put together.

Pros

  • It's possible to add more coal whilst cooking thanks to the bottom hatch - doesn't disrupt cooking.
  • Heat control is made relatively simple by using the vents and movable rack.
  • The large ash collection tray easily slides out making the BBQ easy to clean.
  • Grill plates divide into three pieces making them easy to clean.
  • Sturdy construction does not feel flimsy or cheap.

Cons

  • Assembly may take 2 hours + and the instructions are not as clear as they could be.
  • The charcoal tray can sit slightly unevenly - it may be difficult to get it completely flat.
  • The construction material is a little flimsy and dents easily from knocks.
  • The walls of the adjustable charcoal tray are a little low and can overflow easily.
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Landmann Stainless Steel Pedestal Charcoal BBQLandmann Stainless Steel Pedestal Charcoal BBQ

Best pedestal charcoal BBQ

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
4.22
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Landmann Stainless Steel Pedestal Charcoal BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 39cm x 39cm
  • Height: 84cm
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Wheeled?: No

Who said BBQs had to follow a standard design? For something a little different, offering a rather modern twist on standard BBQing, this Landmann Pedestal Charcoal Barbecue has a stainless steel finish and a pedestal base.

Weighing just 2 kg, it’s the lightest charcoal BBQ featured on this list, and as a result it’s extremely easy to move around and adjust. Of course, once the coals are burning it needs to stay put, but you certainly won’t be put off by the idea of moving this grill in and out of storage.

Featuring enough space to cater for up to four people, it’s a great BBQ for couples or small families – easy to store, simple to use, and conveniently sized. It doesn’t have all the versatility of some more premium models, but you might not be looking for something that can smoke, roast and sear. This is a basic yet effective BBQ, with no lid, that will cook sausages, burgers and skewers when you want them.

It does feature a windshield, which helps maintain the BBQ’s temperature and keep you safe from flying sparks/ash, as well as an easy-to-remove ash tray and adjustable vents. These allow some control over the heat as well.

With very little assembly required, you’ll easily be able to get this grill going on the day it arrives (weather permitting!) without any issues.

The only potential problem that could arise is from trying to use this BBQ on windier days – it can be a little unstable due to its ‘pedestal’ base and may wobble if the wind really picks up. Just something to be aware of!

Pros

  • Easy to assemble in 20 - 30 mins.
  • A good size for smaller families of 2 - 4 people.
  • The grill can be positioned at different heights (manually) depending on how quickly you want to cook.
  • Easy to clean and comes up looking like new each time.

Cons

  • The bolts that arrive with the BBQ aren't stainless steel and may rust (many people switch them out for stainless steel).
  • Needs to be placed on a very level base otherwise can be unstable.
  • May wobble in windier conditions.
  • The ash tray may not always fit perfectly and can allow some ash to fall down the sides.
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Landmann DIY Brick Charcoal BBQLandmann DIY Brick Charcoal BBQ

Best DIY Brick Charcoal BBQ

Design
Craftsmanship
Assembly Ease
Ease of Cleaning
Value for Money
Overall
3.98
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Landmann DIY Brick Charcoal BBQ Review

Specifications

  • Grill Size: 67cm x 40cm
  • Height: 4.6kg
  • Weight: 67cm
  • Wheeled?: No

Whether you’ve already got a traditional brick grill built into your garden, or you’re in the process of building one, the Landmann DIY Charcoal Barbecue will slot in neatly to provide an authentic BBQ experience.

Naturally, getting the correct dimensions is important, and this particular grill measures 67.4 x 42 x 6.8 cm. The chrome-plated cooking grill, charcoal grid and ash tray will generally fit into most pre-built brick BBQ units (of course, check the measurements first) so it’s perfect as a replacement for an existing unit as well.

With space to cook for at least ten people, you’ll likely be able to serve any number of guests quite comfortably by staggering the cooking. Plus, if hard-to-clean BBQs are one of your pet hates, this Landmann grill can be simply removed and washed, without trying to awkwardly clean parts whilst they’re still attached.

As a company, Landmann has a good reputation for producing quality products. This grill follows the trend by being both well-made and accurately described; in particular, the dimension measurements are precise so you can be confident it will fit without problem.

Whilst it might be tempting to leave this grill outside year-round, it’s best stored away when not in use to help prolong its life. Buying a cover can also help if you’re limited on storage space, but one way or another it’s recommended to keep this grill out of the changeable UK weather as much as possible.

Pros

  • A large size that can be difficult to find in high-street retailers.
  • Tray and rack are easy to slot in and remove from brick structure when required.
  • Enough space to cater for at least 10 people.
  • Dimensions are accurate which helps if fitting into a pre-exiting brick BBQ structure.

Cons

  • Construction of bricks can be difficult, especially as the instructions are not the best.
  • The black paint may start to peel after a few uses.
  • Needs to be covered or taken it when it rains otherwise may rust and not last as long.
  • Difficult to remove ash whilst cooking, so if cooking for a long time may build up a lot.
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Things to Know Before Buying a Charcoal BBQ

If you love the authenticity and taste of grilling over coals, a Charcoal BBQ is definitely the way to go. 

Charcoal BBQs have a lot to offer, from fast temperature adjustments to smoking units on the side.

If you need a little help choosing the best charcoal BBQ for you, check out the following tips to help you make an informed decision.

Why Choose a Charcoal BBQ Over Gas

What is it that makes cooking with a charcoal BBQ such a great experience?

First and foremost, charcoal BBQs give a deliciously smoky, outdoor-cooked, authentic quality to food which gas BBQs just can’t quite replicate.

They allow you a truly versatile cooking experience. Depending on where you place the food, and how you position the grill shelves, you can choose to sear meat, leave it to slow cook, or smoke it. What’s more, charcoal BBQs even allow you the possibility to cook food directly in the hot coals themselves (wrap in foil first!).

Charcoal BBQs really offer a variety of great options for food lovers. You can choose to use different types of wood with your charcoal BBQ to alter the taste when smoking. There are so many possibilities that just aren’t available when cooking with gas.

Gas BBQs do have their benefits, of course, and one of their advantages is that they are notoriously easy to light. However, don’t let the charcoal BBQ’s unjust reputation for being difficult to start put you off. With a bit of practise, you’ll be an expert at getting the coals burning, and you’ll never look back!

Choosing the Right Charcoal BBQ Size

As you can imagine, how you wish to use your BBQ will determine what size you should buy.

Do you have a large family or is it just the two of you? Are you frequently hosting parties?

What about food? Are you content just grilling sausages and burgers? Or do you want to smoke racks of ribs and cook a whole chicken?

If you know you want to be able to cook a lot of food for a lot of people, you should look for a BBQ with a large grill (and a warming rack).

However, if the idea of cooking that much food at one time seems unnecessary to you, you’ll probably be happier with something smaller. A lot of great options are available, allowing you to cook for a few people and then easily store the BBQ away.

Charcoal BBQs With Temperature control

Look out for charcoal BBQs which have vents, as these allow more control over the cooking temperature.

For some, this may not be as important, especially if you’re mostly interested in serving up just a couple of sausages and burgers.

However, for cooking bigger items, or larger quantities, it can be helpful to be able to adjust the temperature. Vents are often positioned at the top or bottom of the BBQ, or at both ends.

There may also be an option to adjust the height of your charcoal basin or change the height of the shelves. This brings food closer to, or further away from, the heat source. When the food is closer to the charcoal, the temperature will be higher, and vis versa.

Check it’s Easy to Clean

It can be a bit of a nightmare to clean some old-fashioned BBQs. You may be familiar with the type – you have to lie them down, twist them about, or flip them over completely in order to effectively clean them.

But fear not! This can be avoided. And if you’re going to the effort of buying a new BBQ, I recommend you make your life simpler by checking if it’s easy to clean.

Several BBQs have features to make cleaning easier.

As a starter for ten, look for models which have removable ash trays that can be removed and cleaned separately. For example, the Landmann DIY Charcoal Barbecue or the Landmann Pedestal Charcoal Barbecue.

You should also look out for chrome- or ceramic-plated grills. These have a durable, non-stick surface which should keep them easy to wash down for years.

How to Know it Will Last

You want your BBQ to be a long-term investment, so it’s important to buy one which has got some longevity.

A durable material is a good place to start. Look for steel construction and ceramic-coated grills. This is usually a sign of quality.

It’s also important that the grill itself is relatively thick. Not only does a thicker grill hold heat longer, ultimately cooking more effectively, it is also much more likely to last longer. Cooking grates should be made out of steel or cast iron.

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Charcoal BBQ FAQs

Do gas BBQs taste the same as charcoal BBQs?

Honestly, no. Charcoal BBQs burn coal as they cook your food, creating a delicious smoky aroma and grilling those flavours into your food.

A gas grill doesn’t burn coal or create smoke in the same way, they can’t replicate the same smoky flavour.

How do you light a charcoal BBQ?

  1.  Always keep safety in mind before you begin. Don’t light the BBQ near wooden fences or trees in case sparks jump from the grill. Remember to use proper cooking equipment, like heat-safe tongs, to touch the food.
  2. Choose a good-quality charcoal. You should try to avoid charcoal which contains accelerants as these can mar the taste of food.
  3. Use a chimney starter as a great choice for quickly and easily lighting charcoal. You put the charcoal into the bucket-shaped tool, along with some flammable kindling (newspaper, twigs, etc.). Once the coals start burning, you can tip them into your BBQ.
  4. Arrange the coals in your BBQ depending on whether you want to cook with direct heat (food directly above the coals) or indirect heat (food cooks on grill with heat source off to one side).
      • If you want to cook with direct heat, evenly distribute the coals under all of the grill space.
      • If you want to cook with indirect heat, spread the coals out under one side of the grill only. You can then cook on the other side of the grill and the heat will reach the food, but not as much as if the food was directly over the coals.

Are charcoal BBQs difficult to use?

No. Charcoal BBQs have a reputation for being harder to use than gas BBQs, but this is simply because it takes a bit more effort to light them. And just because something takes more effort, doesn’t mean it is more difficult! Once you have practised lighting the BBQ a couple of times, you will realise it’s no harder to use than a gas BBQ.

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Sources

  1. Bawdon, Michael. “A guide to different types of barbecue”. Great British Chefs.
  2. McElhiney, Jacqui (24 July 2015). “How to cook meat properly on the barbecue”. BBC Good Food.

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